Stondon Massey: Church

Pages 245-247

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.

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The advowson of Stondon Massey descended along with the manor until the 17th century. (fn. 1) In 1660 Edward Otway was presented by Col. Rich, but the next presentation, in 1691, was made by the trustees of the estate of Anthony Luther of Myles's (in Kelvedon Hatch, q.v.). (fn. 2) In 1696 William Kendall of Takeley presented James Crook. The new rector afterwards acquired the advowson, and on his death in 1707 left it to his widow Mary. She presented Thomas White, who resigned the living in the same year, and then Thomas Smith, whom she later married. The advowson passed on her death in 1728 to her husband. He died in 1732 and in his will directed that the advowson was to be sold and the proceeds divided among his family. This does not seem to have been carried out. Smith's eldest son Richard presented the next rector (1733) and in 1735 Richard's younger brother Thomas was presented by John How, one of the executors of Thomas Smith the elder. The younger Thomas Smith held the rectory for no fewer than 56 years, dying in 1791. The advowson had previously been acquired by John Oldham, who presented himself and was rector for 50 years. Before his death in 1841 he sold the advowson to John Hubbard, of Cornhill, who presented his son Thomas. In 1849 the advowson was again sold, this time to Edward Reeve, who presented his son Edward J. Reeve. The latter died in 1893 and was succeeded as patron and rector by his son Edward H. L. Reeve. In 1936, on the death of E. H. L. Reeve, the advowson was vested in the Bishop of Chelmsford. (fn. 3)

The rectory of Stondon was valued at 7 marks in about 1254, (fn. 4) at £5 6s. 8d. in 1291, (fn. 5) and at £13 6s. 8d. in 1535. (fn. 6) In 1849 the tithes were commuted for £355 10s. (fn. 7) The connexion between this rectory and the manor of Marks Hall in Margaret Roding has been described above. (fn. 8) There was a chapel at Marks Hall in 1371 and 1410, when it was said to be annexed to the rectory of Stondon. The chapel was 'decayed' by the 17th century but tithes from Marks Hall continued to be paid to the rector of Stondon. An undated terrier, probably of the early 17th century, stated the value of those tithes to be £10 a year. Until the early 19th century the parishioners of Stondon included Marks Hall in the annual beating of their bounds. In 1845, when the tithes of Margaret Roding were commuted, the Marks Hall estate comprised 317 acres, of which 262 acres paid tithes to Stondon. (fn. 9) These last were commuted for £80 10s. 6d., which sum was not included in the above figure for the commutation of the tithe in Stondon itself. The tithe rent charge from Marks Hall has continued to be paid to the Rector of Stondon until the present day. (fn. 10)

Early in the 17th century it was stated that the rectory house of Stondon had been newly built and repaired by John Nobbs, then rector. There were also a barn, an orchard, and 60 acres of glebe. The rebuilding was probably to provide accommodation for Nobbs's family of ten children. (fn. 11) His house remained until about 1800 when it was completely demolished and a new rectory built. A drawing of the 17th-century house and a description of it were contributed to the Gentleman's Magazine in January and February 1805. It was a large irregular house with many gables, timberframed and weather-boarded and having a chimneystack with grouped diagonal shafts. (fn. 12) The new rectory was sited farther from the road. John Oldham, the rector who built it, is said to have been his own architect, and to have evolved the plan during a tour in Switzerland. (fn. 13) It is an imposing brick mansion, square and compact in plan, with roof pediments. At the time of the rebuilding the grounds were laid out by a landscape gardener, perhaps an associate of 'Capability' Brown. (fn. 14) In 1810, in a description of the rectory which he sent to the bishop, Oldham stated that it had been built about ten years earlier and that it had in addition to the living-quarters a stable, barn, granary, cowhouse, and brewing-house. (fn. 15) A cottage with a thatched roof which still adjoins the former rectory may have been one of the outbuildings mentioned in 1810. It was at one time used as a laundry. (fn. 16) Oldham's house remained in use as the rectory until about 1936. It is now a private house and the land is being farmed. (fn. 17) The present rectory, built about 1939, is a large red-brick house of irregular plan situated near Cannon's Farm.

The church of ST. PETER AND ST. PAUL consists of nave, chancel, north vestry, organ chamber and chapel, south porch, and western bell turret with spire. The nave and chancel date from about 1100, the bell turret and the porch were added in the 15th century and in the 19th century the vestry, organ chamber and chapel were added and the porch rebuilt. (fn. 18) The walls are mainly plastered over outside but where exposed at the west end are seen to be of neatly coursed flints with lacing courses of tiles, possibly Roman.

Of the original structure, apart from the walls, there remain two characteristic narrow Norman window openings (one now blocked externally) in the north side of the nave, one in the south side of the nave and one in the south wall of the chancel. The south doorway is also of that period. It has an unornamented stone surround with rough, quoined jambs and rudimentary impost blocks. A north doorway of similar date was in use until 1850 but is now blocked externally. Other features which may in part be survivals from the original building are the narrow lancetshaped window and three small circular openings in the western gable of the nave. The original chancel was probably apse-ended.

Late in the 14th century a two-light traceried window was added to the south wall of the chancel and a similar window of three lights to the south wall of the nave. It was possibly at the same period that the chancel-arch was removed and the apse replaced by a square end.

Early in the 15th century there were further considerable alterations, including the reconstruction of the roof, the addition of the bell turret and south porch and the insertion of a new west window. The roof (now ceiled) has heavy moulded wall plates with three king-post trusses over the nave portion. The bell turret rises from the west end of the nave and is carried on stout chamfered corner posts from the ground with ornamental bracing in which the western-most rooftruss is incorporated. Externally the bell turret is rectangular and weather-boarded with a short octagonal broach spire covered with shingles. It was rebuilt in 1888. (fn. 19) The west window is of two lights with traceried head within a four-centered arch. The porch, which was reconstructed in the 19th century, retains one original cambered beam with plate, posts, and braces.

The chancel screen dates from the late 15th century. It has five narrow bays with traceried agree arches on each side of a wider central opening with a four-centre arched head. It has been much restored, especially in the lower part.

Extensive alterations and repairs were begun in 1850, soon after E. J. Reeve became rector. (fn. 20) The lord of the manor, P. H. Meyer, and the patron, Edward Reeve, helped in the work. The roofs of the nave and chancel were covered with tiles in place of the previous slates. A vestry was added, the porch rebuilt, the north doorway walled up, a new priest's door provided in the chancel, and the east window, previously a makeshift sash, replaced by a three-light traceried window.

Further extensions were made in 1873-4 as a memorial to P. H. Meyer. (fn. 21) These included a new vestry with heating cellar beneath, an organ chamber, and a mortuary chapel. The chapel consists of two bays vaulted in stone in Early English style, with lancet and three-light traceried windows. Externally it is faced with random flint work with stone dressings and has a gable at the north end with an arched doorway and angle buttresses. The chapel is entered from the nave, from which it is divided by a glazed screen, and the organ chamber from the chancel, both through wide arches the construction of which occasioned the removal of a Norman window in the chancel. The abutment of the west wall of the chapel against the nave caused another Norman window to be blocked up.

The last major repairs to the church were those of 1888, when the bell-turret and spire were rebuilt.

The pulpit is octagonal and has panelled sides with arabesque ornament, and inside it is '2 TIM. 4. 2.' The reading-desk, also panelled and carved with jewel ornament, bears the date 1630. The pulpit and the desk were previously combined in three-decker fashion but were separated during the restorations of 1850. (fn. 22) A gallery erected on the north side of the nave by Philip Hollingworth in 1825 was removed in 1850. (fn. 23) The singers' pew at the west end of the nave was then enlarged to form a new gallery but this was in turn removed in 1873-4. (fn. 24)

There are three bells. (fn. 25) The oldest, which was no doubt installed when the belfry was built, was made by John Bird early in the 15th century: this is the second in the peal, and is inscribed 'Johannes Cristi Care Dignare Pro Nobis Orare'. The first in the peal is by Robert Mot, 1588, and the third by Thomas Gardiner, 1737. The Bell Rope Charity, of unknown origin, consisted in 1834 of a cottage and 1 acre of land, the profits of which were intended for the purchase of bell ropes. (fn. 26) At that date the rent of £2 2s. was carried to the churchwarden's general account. In 1842 the parish vestry agreed to let the property to William Page at £4 a year on a 21-year lease on condition that he rebuilt the cottage. At the end of that period the lord of the manor obtained the lease at an annual rent of £8, renewable each year. After his death in 1870 the property continued to be rented by the tenant of Stondon House. By a Charity Commission Scheme of 1892 the rector and churchwardens were made trustees and the trusts were declared to be the maintenance and repair of the parish church. By 1933 the cottage was in a bad state of repair and was sold with the land for £260 which was invested in stock. In 1952 the income of £8 14s. 6d. was paid into the church account. The cottage is probably that now known as Rectory Cottage, on the opposite side of the road from Stondon House. (fn. 27)

The church plate consists of a silver cup of 1564, another of 1824 given by Elizabeth, widow of Thomas Smith, a former rector, a silver patent of 1905 given by the rector E. H. L. Reeve in 1909 to match the old cup, an undated paten of silver on copper, and a silver flagon of 1885 given by Tyndale White. (fn. 28)

The font, which dates from the 15th century, is octagonal, the sides of the bowl being panelled with quatrefoils.

The monuments include two notable sets of brasses. The first, in the north-eastern corner of the chancel, is to John Carre, 1570, ironmonger and Merchant Adventurer of London, and shows him flanked by his two wives, with the shields of arms of the City of London, the Ironmongers' Company and the Merchant Adventurers, and Carre's own monogram. (fn. 29) The second, now on the north wall of the nave, was formerly in the chancel: it is to Rainold Hollingworth, 1573, and shows him in armour with his wife beside him. This is a palimpsest on earlier Flemish brasses, the patterns of which survive on the backs of the figures. (fn. 30) There are floor slabs: in the chancel to (1) John Leigh (1650) and his son Thomas, 1685, (2) James Crooke, rector (1707), and in the nave (3) to Prosper Nicholas (1689) and his wife Mary (1702). (fn. 31) Other monuments include a number to owners of Stondon Hall, Stondon Place, and Stondon House. (fn. 32) One of these, a slab in the nave, gives details concerning the How and Taylor-How families, 1708-1831. Monu- ments to rectors include those to Thomas Smith (1791), E. J. Reeve (1893), and his son E. H. L. Reeve (1936). On the south wall of the nave is an enriched stone memorial in Jacobean style to William Byrd the musician (d. 1623). It was erected in 1923 to mark the tercentenary of his death. On the north wall of the nave is an oak panel in memory of men who fell in the First World War.

For Canon Reeve's legacy for the church see below, Charities.


  • 1. Newcourt, Repert. ii, 545. In 1558 and 1563 the advowsons appears to have been sold pro hac vice.
  • 2. Unless otherwise stated the authority for statements in the Church section is Reeve, Stondon Massey, 57-90.
  • 3. Chel. Dioc. Year Bk. 1937.
  • 4. E.A.T. n.s. xviii, 19.
  • 5. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 21b.
  • 6. Val. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 437.
  • 7. E.R.O., D/CT 337.
  • 8. See Manor; E.A.T. n.s. xv, 148-52; Newcourt, Repert. ii, 544, 505.
  • 9. E.R.O., D/CT 298.
  • 10. Inf. from University Coll., Oxford. The rent charge is now (1954) £84 19s. and is paid through the Church Commissioners.
  • 11. Newcourt, Repert. ii, 544; Reeve, Stondon Massey, 70.
  • 12. Reeve, Stondon Massey, 70, 87; see plate facing p. 136.
  • 13. Reeve, Stondon Massey, 86-88.
  • 14. Ibid. 86. Brown himself died in 1783 and therefore could not, as Reeve states, have designed the gardens.
  • 15. Ibid. 88.
  • 16. Inf. from occupier.
  • 17. Ibid.
  • 18. For an historical description of the church by F. Chancellor (1898) see E.R. vii, 139 f.
  • 19. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1906).
  • 20. Reeve, Stondon Massey, 92. For drawings of the church before restoration see A. Suckling, Mems. of Essex, 1-3.
  • 21. Ibid. 96.
  • 22. Ibid. 93.
  • 23. Ibid. 91, 93.
  • 24. Ibid. 93, 96.
  • 25. Ch. Bells Essex, 403.
  • 26. Rep. Com. Char. (Essex), H.C. 216, pp. 245-6 (1835), xx (1); Char. Com. files; Reeve, Stondon, 116-17.
  • 27. Cf. O.S. 6 in. Map (1st edn.), sheet lix. And see above, p. 241.
  • 28. Church Plate Essex, 141; Reeve, Stondon, 67, 76, 84, 97, 203.
  • 29. Described by Reeve, Stondon, 246 (illus.) and in E.R. vii, 150.
  • 30. Reeve, Stondon, 30, 106 (illus.).
  • 31. Ibid. 105, 107.
  • 32. Fully listed ibid. 107-9, and in E.R. vii, 150-4.